Auto-generated 2012 in review

Every social network seems to be offering a “year in review” feature. WordPress (who hosts this blog) is no different. Here’s their auto-generated “annual report”:

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

The presentation is actually pretty slick. But the information in it is pretty mundane and easily derived — number of views, number of comments — what we in the biz call “social activity.” The one part that’s not obviously derived is the one about where people are coming from and which search terms got those people to the blog. These stats require knowledge about location of the viewer, which in the case of blogs come from a mapping of IP address to locations (there are entire companies built around this idea, Neustar being one via their acquisition of Quova), or about the referring URL for the viewer — part of what’s called “clickstream analysis” — in the case of search terms.

What’s missing for someone who really cares about social analytics is a number of other things:

  • How many times the blog post was linked to in Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. WordPress would need to have access to the full content stream from the other networks in order to know the real number. What they do know via clickstream analysis is when someone actually clicks on the link and goes to the page. Which of course is the most important thing — if you tweet a link and no one clicks on it, does it matter?
  • Even the most basic content analysis — what were the key themes discussed (you’d see a lot about “triathlon” in mine, for example, even in this post thanks to this parenthetical comment), what was the sentiment in the comments, tweets and Facebook posts that mentioned each blog entry, etc?

These two items are non-trivial to auto-generate. The former requires much more openness among the various social networks, which due to privacy concerns and policies, business model and “monetization” strategies and competition for users’ attention are becoming increasingly balkanized and locked down. The latter requires automated content analysis of the kind my company Attensity does, and believe me this stuff is hard to do accurately in a general-purpose way.

But perhaps the 2013 year in review will add a little more intelligence and start to move towards something that is actually interesting.

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